Can an attorney be replaced by a chatbot?
A “robot lawyer” chatbot, available in all 50 states since July, is promising to help you sue Equifax for the data breach without hiring a lawyer. I wrote about the data breach last week, and pointed out the controversy over the arbitration clause that has since been resolved. This has opened up the ability for anyone affected to sue Equifax. Should you and what kind of advice do you need?
Initiating a lawsuit is not something to be taken lightly. It can be expensive, stressful, and time-consuming. Small claims courts exist to minimize these hurdles, but unfortunately it’s not like Judge Judy. There are still forms, procedures, hearings, arguing, and the pesky law.
Enter the chatbot
This chatbot was initially created to help defend against parking tickets. The creator claims that the bot can now handle 1,000 different issues. It simply asks you a few questions and creates forms or letters for you to print and sign. In the case of suing Equifax, it drafts a small claims petition and gives you some basic information on what to do with it.
Regrettably, as I’ve written before, lawyering is a lot more complex than just filling out forms.
Don’t shortcut the process
When I first meet a client, I typically spend an hour or two with them to fully understand the issue and their needs and goals. I ask a lot of questions. Many times, things come to light that the client didn’t think was important or relevant. Without a firm grasp of all of the fact and circumstances, advice could be wrong or incomplete. A bot can’t make the same inferences and logical leaps an attorney can. It can’t tell you everything you need to know based on a few typed questions and answers.
Even worse, a bot won’t ask you detailed questions that may change the equation entirely. About 1/3 of the time, I find myself explaining to a potential client that while they can proceed in the manner they envision, they shouldn’t. In these cases the action won’t culminate in their desired result or worse, may adversely affect their long-term goals.
As a software developer, I’m well aware of the advances in artificial intelligence. But we’re still a long way from a bot fully understanding the nuances of case-law, human emotion, practicality, and how it all relates to a given set of facts.
And then what?
So you decide to take matters into your own hands. You’ve used a bot and researched the issue online. You’ve figured out that you need to fill out a form and file it. And then what? What are you going to do with this form? Does it need to be filed? Does it need to be served? What if the other party refuses to respond? What if there’s a hearing – do you know what to argue and how? Do you know all the rules to make sure that even if you win, it can’t be set aside because you didn’t follow all the proper procedures?
There are a lot of things you can do yourself. Even in the legal world. There are routing things that really do involve just filing out a form and mailing it in. For example, if you own a home in Texas, you should make sure you file a Homestead Exemption Application. You absolutely do not need an attorney for that.
But if you have a dispute or don’t understand a contract or just don’t know your rights, an attorney can be a valuable ally in helping you protect your interests.
I ain’t afraid of no bots
(Apologies to Ray Parker, Jr.)
To be clear, I’m not afraid of a bot. I don’t arbitrarily dislike online legal services because it’s competition. I’m all for increased access to the law for all people, and I wish more people were able to solve problems without having to dive into legal intricacies, procedures, and bureaucracy. But a neutral advocate who can holistically guide you can be an invaluable asset in solving your problem.
You get what you pay for
While this isn’t always the case, it is true more often than not. Free legal advice is sometimes worth exactly what you paid. Sometimes, it can be worth even less. If you take an action that’s not allowable at law, you can not only lose whatever expenses you incurred, you may even be ordered to pay the fees of the other party.
If you have a legal question or issue, call us to see if we can help. We’re located in Plano, TX and represent clients throughout Collin County. We handle business matters, estate planning matters, contracts, trademarks, real-estate transactions, and more. If you have issues that extend to California or Colorado, we can help – we’re licensed there too.